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Real Property Law

Interview with Real Property Title Expert Norman Chernin

By John (J.R.) Richards

I know you through the CLA Real Property Law Section where you did some wonderful work…tell us what kind of work do you did for the State Bar/CLA and have you done with the Real Property Law Section?

While a member of the Section’s Executive Committee, I presented a Webinar, and chaired a panel at the Retreat held in Monterey that was attended by 109 attendees even though it was competing with a Judge’s panel that offered MCLE ethics credit.  I edited the E-Bulletin prior to you.  I am on the Planning Committee that put on the 1st Commercial Real Estate Symposium last year and is planning this year’s Commercial Real Estate Symposium to be held in September.

I also see you were and are still very involved with the LA Bar Association.  What kind of work have you done for them?

I created and edited the monthly Real Property Section Newsletter for the LA Bar for 10 years before becoming an officer, rising up the ladder to become the Chair of the Section’s Executive Committee.                  

One of our missions here with CLA is to invigorate our membership in the LA area.  What are your suggestions to do that?

I think that networking events are the best way to attract membership.  Young lawyers need to understand that billable hours cannot be the only objective.

What was your favorite project working on the ExCom and why?

Last year’s Commercial Real Estate Symposium event because it successfully combined education and networking in a comfortable venue.  I am hopeful that this year’s event will replace it as my favorite.

What was been the biggest challenge and reward for working with the ExCom?

The biggest challenge was finding sponsors for events and the biggest reward was meeting and becoming acquainted with the other members of the Real Property ExCom.

Can we talk you in to giving CLE?  What subject would you like to present?  How many CLE’s do you think you have presented to date?

I have done many CLE programs over my career—usually related to title and escrow issues.  I’m not sure how much of a draw I would be now that I am semi-retired.

There’s an author named Kim Chernin, is she any relation?  There’s also a famous chess coach named Alexander Chernin, is he any relation?  Do you have any famous relations or interesting facts about your family history?  Do you have any famous relations or interesting facts about your family history?

I have heard of her, but do not know her and she’s not a relation to my knowledge.  I have never heard of the chess guy.  But no, I do not have any famous relations.

I heard you are now doing a lot of expert work.  In what fields are you an expert?

I have just begun this last year—my expertise relates primarily to title (including title insurance coverage) and escrow issues.

Talking about your title expertise, I see that you are a senior national and California underwriter for Fidelity National Title, what were some of the most interesting projects you have done for either Fidelity or your previous company First American?

The most unusual project was a proposed 50+ mile rail line to take garbage from Los Angeles County to a former quarry in the desert.  The route passes through land owned by San Bernardino County, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Navy, the railroad and private landowners.  As far as I know, this project is still being worked on.  I also worked on a number of energy projects (wind farms, generation and distribution facilities covering many miles and much acreage in several states) where the land was owned outright by an Indian tribe or in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Which is a more challenging project: a downtown high rise, a farm, a golf course or a ski resort?

It depends on the condition of title, the temperament of the participants and the complexity of the transaction (layers of ownership, etc.)

Young Norman with a child

Tell me about your work with Prudential Realty Group.  You worked there for 22 years. It had to be interesting.

It was. I handled all legal work related to the development of 12,000 acres of land straddling the county line between Los Angeles and Ventura counties.  In addition, I handled acquisition, sales and management issues related to shopping centers, high-rise office buildings, industrial parks, hotels and other real estate investments throughout the western region of the country.

Tell me about the ground lease work you did for Staple Center when you work for Brand Farrar.  What were some of the interesting challenges with that project?

The most interesting challenge was tying the City’s commitments to the developer to the developer’s commitments to develop the surrounding area.  If you have been to L.A. Live, then you know that the City got what it was after.

In your career, who were your most influential mentors and why?

Unfortunately, I never had the benefit of a mentor—it was always sink or swim on my own.  That’s why I try to mentor younger attorneys when I can.

Undergrad or Law School, which is better?

For me, undergrad was more enjoyable because I was exposed to so many areas of knowledge with which I had no prior experience.  Law school was more focused, but led ultimately to more reward.

B.A/ in International Relations?  Why? 

Because it was as far away from engineering, where I had started, as I could find.

So I see you won first place in law school in the moot court competition.  Tell me about that experience?  What was the most important thing you learned?

It provided confirmation to me that I could handle myself in stressful situations if I prepared adequately.

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?  Tell me about the experience.

Ben Johnson. I met him in his home in Westlake Village after his career as a cowboy actor and winner of an Oscar for his performance in The Last Picture Show.  He was a true gentleman.

Other than what you do now, what’s the most interesting or unique job you’ve ever had?  Why?

From junior high until college, I sold candy on weekends at stands on highways in various locations in Southern California.  I got the chance to learn to deal with many different types of people.

What do you do to help balance your life with work?

For many years, I played tennis on weekends.  Now I walk daily.  All of course subject to the wishes of my family.

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